Prophets in Israel

Menachem Penner Tradition Online | June 16, 2024

As Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary celebrates its Chag HaSemikha today we recall the charge that R. Norman Lamm delivered to the YU musmakhim 30 years ago. In a well-known address, “The Spirit of Elijah Rests Upon Elishah,” R. Lamm expressed his passion for what it means to enable each new rabbi to take up his task. He noted that Elijah, when commanded at the end of his prophetic career to appoint new kings in Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and afterward to anoint a new prophet in the person of Elishah, reversed the order of his missions. He explained that

as important as political moves and international relations and diplomatic maneuvers are, the single most important task before the Jewish People in every generation is to ensure the continuity of its spiritual leadership. Let kings and heads of state wait; let matters of historic moments bide their time; let the politicians stand aside and let the statesmen cool their heels in the outer offices of our attention. The priority of priorities is that there be prophets of God and teachers of Torah and models of moral conduct and exemplars of Torah ethics to make our people worthy of saving.

In TRADITION’s “Rabbi Norman Lamm Memorial Volume,” R. Menachem Penner examined R. Lamm’s many addresses to the rabbis under his charge, writing:

R. Lamm saw in these biblical stories the classic tension between the Jewish king and prophet. The former bears the responsibility to administrate the needs of the people. He lacks, however, the religious sensitivity of the seer. Those infused with the wisdom of God are required, in a separate but equal way, to play a role in steering the nation. R. Lamm did not downplay the challenges that lie ahead for his charges. He understood that the world in which the musmakhim would soon be serving was hostile to many values cherished in the walls of the yeshiva. The talmidim, who found comfort amongst their colleagues in the beit midrash, would soon spread out across a foreign world.

Read Menachem Penner’s “Prophets in Israel” which offers a careful analysis of R. Lamm’s The Spirit of the Rabbinate (RIETS, 2010) and listen to him discuss the article together with R. Benjamin J. Samuels on the Tradition Podcast.

R. Penner spent many years at the helm of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and shares in the merits of the cohort of newly-minted rabbis headed off to teach and preach and lead. TRADITION is fortunate that he has recently been named the new Executive Vice-President of our publisher, the Rabbinical Council of America, and we look forward to benefiting from his leadership and counsel for years to come.

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